Climate saviour or annoying neighbour?

Tailwind in the Norwegian mountains

Climate saviour or annoying neighbour?

Wind power’s growth and potential are considerable, but wind farms often stir up strong emotions. Where many see climate benefits and economic gains, local inhabitants often perceive wind turbines as a threat to their immediate environment. One example where the positive attitude of residents has instead been crucial is the Øyfjellet wind farm, which will be one of Norway’s largest.

One of the EU’s goals is for 20 percent of its Member States’ energy needs to be met by renewable energy in 2020. Wind power is a key part of this transition, and in terms of percentage it is the energy source undergoing the fastest rate of development. In the small northern Norwegian town of Mosjøen AFRY is collaborating with Eolus Vind to develop their new wind farm Øyfjellet, which when complete will be one of the largest in Norway.

“We were involved early in the process to analyse the wind resources and ensure that the wind conditions were good. Wind turbines do encroach on the environment, so it’s important to guarantee their benefit,” explains Peter Schelander, Project Manager and wind expert at AFRY.

Built in the right location, wind turbines can contribute large volumes of electricity with zero emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that harm the climate. But locals are not always as positive about the 180-metre high turbines being constructed nearby. The turbines can sometimes get in the way of popular hiking trails, and the rotor blades generate sound that can disturb both humans and wildlife. As is customary when building wind farms, consideration for other businesses and local perspectives has been central throughout the project, especially in selecting the location for the turbines. AFRY has therefore drawn up positions for the approximately 70 wind turbines to optimise their energy production while not making them too intrusive.

Local stakeholders saw the potential

One aspect that differentiates Øyfjellet from other wind power projects is the fact that Eolus Vind has entered an agreement with local aluminium manufacturer Alcoa for selling electricity. This means that the 1.5 Terawatt hour of electricity generated in the Øyfjellet mountains each year will be consumed locally. Alcoa is the largest individual employer in Mosjøen, and the collaboration will enable the company to not only expand operations, but also to create new job opportunities, both during the establishment phase of the wind farm and its subsequent operation.

Tailwind in the norwegian mountains

“The fact that specifically Alcoa sees the opportunity here and will buy the electricity makes the value of the wind farm establishment for the local community so clear that they also see the benefit it will bring,” Schelander says. The project started in Mosjøen more than 10 years ago when local landowners had seen the possibilities of harnessing the strong winds on the nearby mountains and launched a local initiative to establish a wind farm. Eolus Vind regarded it as a dream project and wanted to ensure that this positive approach remained in the realisation of the vision. In 2012 they were able to take over the project and continue to develop it.

“Wind power generates strong emotions – both positive and negative. Here we have seen that strong local endorsement has been key to this success,” says Johan Hammarqvist, Communication Manager at Eolus Vind.

Even though Eolus Vind had solid support locally, continuous dialogues during the project remained important to addressing any concerns and optimally accommodating various requests. The establishment of new wind farms always commences with local dialogue, but there is always a risk that this can be perceived as a monologue providing information rather than an opportunity to voice opinions. Regular consultation meetings with residents were therefore organised, at which AFRY has also taken part as an expert to answer the general public’s questions.

“There are many myths out there about wind power, such as the risk of ice formed on the turbines’ rotor blades supposedly being propelled off them. But above all it’s a health and safety issue for those working at the turbines and nothing that affects outdoor recreation, which we were sure to emphasise for the locals. It’s important that they feel safe with the new turbines and can feel proud of contributing to both a stronger local community and the crucial climate transition,” says Peter Schelander.